My Remarkable Friend: The Immigrant

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Her first question to me after we met was, “Is everything dead?”  I was taken back, unsure of what she meant.  When she explained that she saw no leaves on trees, or flowers growing, I was relieved to tell her that in Georgia, where she was now living, it was winter! I promised her she’d soon see trees covered with leaves.

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She had just arrived in America from Sri Lanka, along with her husband, a newly hired professor of Theology, and an infant son. She had moved from a life of some privilege, to a small garage apartment.  She was relatively clueless about the USA.  But she was a fast learner!

Her husband was a soft spoken former Buddhist priest.  She was a lively vivacious, extravert. She loved to party and loved to dance! For awhile, I helped her navigate her strange new world, wondering, all the while, about how she would survive here.

One day I got a call from her (we were next door neighbors) asking me apologetically, to show her how to bathe her young baby.  She explained that “the servants” had always done it at home. I was of course, eager to comply. She remained grateful for that help until this day!

It wasn’t long before she announced to me that she wanted to become an ESL teacher. Her husband had a pretty hands off attitude and seemed to know better than to try and stop her.

Sure enough, she persisted and got her degree. She mystified many people who met her in Georgia, because they couldn’t determine if she were white or black. I think it surprised her. She endured racism because of it, but plugged on. She is so charming, that she makes friends wherever she goes, despite inherent racism.

rural poverty in GA

She ended up teaching school in one of the state’s poorest counties. A county that few teachers wanted to work in. Her students had few comforts in life and a bleak future. But she was determined to make a difference in their lives. Because of her innovative efforts at working with these kids who most had given up on, she ended up becoming a Georgia Teacher of the Year!

She noted that her students had very few clothes (including shoes) and sometimes would not attend school because they had nothing to wear. She singlehandedly created a special closet in her classroom full of clothing for them she got from friends and neighbors. The children could help themselves to whatever they needed, no questions ever asked.

She did her best to get the parents involved in their child’s education. That was a struggle, but again she persisted and was able to enlist the help of parents in their own child’s educational success. Breakthrough!!

Her beloved husband passed away a few years ago. Although their personalities were very different from one another, they was tremendous respect each had for the other.

She found the courage to move closer to her sons, both of whom lived in California. She left behind many friends and a beautiful home that she and her husband had lived in. She moved into a retirement village not far from her family in California. She began teaching zumba there. She recently managed to buy herself a bright red Tesla. Her son, without telling her,had a stop device installed on the car so it won’t go over 60mph. I laughed when I heard it. Smart man.
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This past weekend, her sons, one now a cardiac pulmonologist and another an attorney, threw her an 80th birthday party at the retirement complex where she now lives. Over 100 people attended her party! She danced through it all, with more energy than seems possible. She’s going strong. The room was charged with the energy and good will she brought to it.
One of the residents told the group that their retirement home had been changed forever for the better when she moved in. I believe it.
When I hear people begrudging immigrants, I think of my beloved friend. The extraordinary commitment she brought along with her to improve the lives of others shines like a universal beacon for the rest of us. Let’s look and learn and welcome.

 

The Quiet Lives of Old Photographs

The photographs of my life huddle together in the darkness, secure in a bedroom cabinet. They now lead quiet lives, disturbed only occasionally. They once brought only pleasure to me and upon inspection, wonder. Now going through them brings a quotient of sadness too. The scale began to tip about 10 or 15 years ago. Their nearby presence exerts an energy that often tempts me to pay them a visit, but one that I usually resist. It’s a bottomless journey, that once begun leads down a road that’s too nostalgic. It invariably leads to sad emotions that I’d prefer to not indulge. It does show a rich lifetime of family times, travel, holidays and joyful events. The photos allow me to visit people who were once an important part of my life, now no longer available for one reason or another or sometimes for no reason I can state.  They just faded away.

Were my eyebrows really once that full and dark? Gazing at a photo of myself holding my infant children in my arms, I can still feel my daughter’s softness and inhale her sweet baby scent. Those sacred pleasures vanished too quickly. Pangs of times passed too quickly and unconsciously.  Another photo yields a glance of smiling faces at a school graduation. That was long ago, when there were more beginnings and a door closed meant that another door would soon be opening.

home from college, visiting my Dad

Yesterday, I uncovered a long-lost photo of my mother in her 20’s with a man other than my father. She and her gentleman friend looked very happy. I remembered her telling me many years ago that this man was her boyfriend before she met my father. They were close to engagement. And then they weren’t. The road not taken, but still present in my stash of snapshots. Does the gentleman still have a photo of my mom that his children puzzle over?

There are so many photos! My short-term attempts at organization have always run out of steam. I can never throw out enough of them to even make a small dent in their number.  Now they lay, slightly deteriorating by the day, in boxes, albums, and stacks. They give testament to a life and youth gone by. They recall young children, departed relatives, exciting trips to Europe and Japan, important birthdays, a long-lost pet. I want to bring them to life, if only for a brief visit.

The gang in Brooklyn on Halloween Eve, many moons ago!
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A gorgeous early summer day near Stockholm.

I almost gasp when looking at photos of a long-ago party at my house, celebrating the visit of Doug Elkins Dance Company in 1998. Everyone was sooo young and so drunk.

Just Married, saying goodbye to parents as we head out for the honeymoon.  1963!

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New Year’s Eve 1999

I found a photo of my mother with her arms around two of my daughters, probably taken 40 years ago. They all looked relaxed and happy. This photo brought me joy because my mother hated to have her picture taken, consequently, I have few photos of her where she seems happy and looks the way I want to remember her. She died of Alzheimer’s so my last memories of her are painful to recall. This photo helped me make her real and healthy again. The image is now on my desk and in my heart.

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My favorite look (for many years)

Thousands of digital photos sit right under my fingertips at my computer’s keyboard. They’re so easily accessible, and visited more frequently. They’re available for immediate recall and better organized.  I imagine that my grandchildren will have no boxes of photos to store.

Once again there came the time to put these memory capsules back in their cupboard.  After writing about them this time, I lovingly put them away, and even managed to feel happy.

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meeting the final grandchild!

Cheating Death Again

Many many years ago as I flew home from college in a small propeller plane, I sat in the bar area in the tail of the aircraft next to 1950’s celebrity Tab Hunter. He told me that he has to fly a lot and each time he lands he announces to himself, “Cheated death again!” It goes without saying I was a bit star-struck, but that phrase has stuck with me for life and comes to mind whenever I get out of or escape what could be a tight situation!

on fire!

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Our area of Central California has been brutally struck by back to back natural disasters. Two elements showed their power: first, the largest wildfire in California history held us hostage for weeks and then the water from winter rains arrived that we need so desperately after years of drought.  The fire was threatening, we breathed dangerous smoke from it for weeks and towards its end had to face the unthinkable thought that the fire might make its move and destroy Santa Barbara.   Continue reading “Cheating Death Again”

It’s Almost Like Being in Love

When I’m in Japan, people seem nicer, the landscape more beautiful, the mundane more interesting. The giggling groups of young women enjoying each other’s company help me to appreciate how fleeting youth is.  The laughs I share with new friends are more frequent. The reds are redder, the golds more golden.IMG_2794

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Respect for and tolerance of others are a commonly agreed upon bond that is shared by almost everyone. Kindness prevails. People seem to smile more often than at home. I awaken earlier.  Singing too!  Rereading this, it sounds like I’ve fallen in love! Continue reading “It’s Almost Like Being in Love”

I am SO Sorry.

(Note to readers:  The reality I witnessed when visiting Hiroshima today was harsh.  My reflections are harsh as well. It is not my intention to offend, rather to awaken.)

There’s no way to put a soft gel on the results of dropping a nuclear bomb on a crowded civilian population. My mind instantly rejected any idea of photographing any part of the A-bomb park in an effort to share our visit to Hiroshima today. I was on sacred ground.

This is my first post without any photos I’ve taken.  For me, they were not an option. Continue reading “I am SO Sorry.”